Paris: four dark plans in the City of Light
After the grandeur of its monuments, the glamor of its commercial avenues and the bohemian atmosphere of the cafes that have inspired the most illustrious artists, Paris hides a much less known but equally fascinating slope: Mysterious legends, nameless secrets jealously guarded through the centuries, ghosts and demons ... We propose a tour of the places that house the most unusual and spooky stories of the French city.
THE PEMENTRE LACHAISE CEMETERY AND THE BLACK MISAS
It is probably the most famous cemetery in the world: here lie writers like Oscar Wilde, Honoré de Balzac or Paul Elouard and musicians like Jim Morrison or Edith Piaf. But this necropolis, located east of the French capital, is not only famous for hosting an endless list of famous people but also for keep scary mysteries and secrets. According to the rumors here Black masses and occult ceremonies are held regularly during the night. Some say, too, that some of the tombs are passageways that directly access the Catacombs.
Anyway, if you visit Père Lachaise during the day you will not find anything unusual. Or maybe yes, because there are many who testify to have crossed into the loneliest places in the cemetery with a large reddish cat, the official ghost of the cemetery. But don't worry, apparently it is totally harmless.
The Paris cemetery of Père Lachaise © Corbis
It is one of the best kept secrets of the capital, so much so that many Parisians would roll their eyes if they heard that under the great avenues and majestic parks another city hides, a true underground city where it is possible to find almost everything: party halls, forgotten bunkers of World War II or the most varied artistic expressions.
No, no kidding, Paris has one of the most extensive and best preserved underground networks in the world. Almost 300 kilometers of tunnels and galleries that are traveled daily by a clandestine group of urban explorers, the so-called catalogs, a curious palette of characters among which are artists, veteran explorers, young anti-systems and the occasional famous. Its objective? Enjoy a unique world in which there are no restrictions or prohibitions and where everyone can express themselves freely.
The history of this unusual underground city goes back to Roman times when the exploitation of limestone quarries began to extract the blocks for the construction of the incipient city. With the passage of time this network of tunnels and passages was extended anarchistically until in 1774 Luís XVI created a department that was in charge of its exploitation and conservation. Later, The bones of 6 million Parisians will be transferred to the quarries. Hence its current name of "Catacombs."
During World War II the Germans discovered the advantages of this underground space by building bunkers whose vaults are still visible today. In 1955, access to the Catacombs was prohibited and only a small part of the entire network (just one kilometer) remains open to the public, which today constitutes one of the city's tourist attractions. But the ban is not an obstacle for from the 70s and 80s the first explorers begin to tour the intestines of the city sowing the germ of a passionate movement of the underground culture, the catalogs.
If you are lucky enough to find one of these urban adventurers, you can take an unusual tour where you can see a reproduction of the mural by Japanese artist Hokusai in the room called La Playa, attend a party in La Sala Z, admire the paintings of different film characters such as Jack Nicholson or John Travolta in Pulp Fiction in the Sala Sol or until he borrowed a book in his makeshift library.
Halloween party in the Catacombs of Paris © Carlos Ramalho
NOTRE DAME AND ITS LEGENDS OF DEVILS
Like all cathedrals of the Middle Ages, Notre-Dame is surrounded by mysteries and legends, such as those of gargoyles that decorate the drains of the famous monument. These hybrid monsters, half beasts, half men would come alive during the night to scare away witches and demons. There are those who say that after noon we hear strange noises in Notre-Dame, those of the fierce contest that breaks out between the gargoyles and the evil spirits.
Another enigmatic story is that of the young apprentice of Biscornet locksmith, who was entrusted in the thirteenth century with the conception of the side doors of the cathedral, the door of Santa Ana. Overwhelmed by the difficult task entrusted to him, in a night of despair, the young man pacts his soul with the devil in exchange for getting the door slab finished.
The next morning, Biscornet appears asleep under the doors with the work finished. The work is deserving of all the praise of the guild that grants him the status of "Maître". However, the locksmith fails to find peace, tormented by nightmares in which the devil insists on claiming the agreed tribute. Finally, he appeared dead in his bed under strange circumstances. Who really was the architect of the Gates of Santa Ana? In 1860 it is ordered to replace the work of Biscornet. Fear of the devil?
A clean blow with the spirits © Corbis
THE OPERA GARNIER AND HIS GHOST
Opened in 1875, the Opera Garnier, also known as the Paris Opera, is one of the architectural references of the French capital. Many are the claims of this unique building: the atypical frescoes of Chagall on the roof, the beautiful marbles of Carrara and, of course, its famous ghost: The Phantom of the Opera who is supposed to have lived in the basement of the building for several decades. Reality or fiction? Let's review the story: on October 28, 1873 a young and promising pianist is a victim of the fire that is unleashed in the conservatory of Rue Le Peletier, leaving his face totally disfigured. His fiancee, a dancer, loses his life in the same event. Inconsolable and brutally deformed takes refuge in the basements of the Garnier Palace, then in full construction, consecrating his sad existence to finish his masterpiece, a hymn about death and love, but also to avenge his fatality by terrifying the workers of the Opera.
A tragic and romantic love story of, apparently, doubtful truthfulness. However, several scholars argue otherwise. Certain unexplained events that occurred during the era in which the tormented ghost supposedly ran through the passageways and basements of the Opera seem to confirm that something weird happened behind the scenes:
On May 20, 1896, during a representation of Faust, the great central spider broke off the roof killing a spectator who curiously occupied seat number 13. Later a stage performer was found hanged and a dancer died in strange circumstances after rushing from a gallery.
The strangest of all, the young soprano Christine Daaé swore to have met face-to-face with the enigmatic Ghost who received singing lessons. Last unusual anecdote, documents have been found that prove that the directors of the time were blackmailed by a mysterious individual who demanded that cabin number 5 be always reserved for him. This cabin is still visible in the Opera building. With or without a ghost the Opera Garnier will not disappoint you: its visiting hours, every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (from July 16 to September 2, the closing hours are at 6 p.m.). Rate: 10 euros
If you are fascinated by mystery and horror stories, be sure to visit Le Manoir de Paris, a museum located in the heart of the capital that recreates 17 mysteries of the Parisian city. Not suitable for those with heart problems.
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The Paris Opera: catch me that ghost © Corbis